Early this year, two Chinese dramas were released. The Lady and The Liar came out first in January and after it finished airing, Cruel Romance was aired. I have to say, both were in my list of highly anticipated dramas. For those unfamiliar with Chinese drama airing, it almost takes a year for a drama to air on TV from the date the trailer is released. Imagine the glee I had when I could watch two in consecutive after much waiting. After all that has digested, I have found it in me to write a twin review of both drama and perhaps even compare. I’m sure some people have watched either one or even both like me. I will have my biases but I have to stress that they represent personal preferences. Feel free to tell me about your personal opinions of biases in the comment box below 🙂
From left: Xiang Han Dong, Zuo Zhen, Jin Xiu and Xiang Ying Dong
Set in the Republican era, Cruel Romance is also known as The Fate of Jinxiu (the novel it is adapted from). Starring Joe Chen Qiao En as the titular Jinxiu, she is paired with the now wedded Huang Xiao Ming as her black knight, Zuo Zhen. Some may recognise Qiao Ren Liang (the frail emperor in Legend of Lu Zhen) who plays as Jinxiu’s suitor, Xiang Ying Dong. Next up in the line of handsome boys or men will be Tse Kwan Ho, Xiang Han Chuan, also XYD’s older suave brother. Believe it or not, it is my first Huang Xiao Ming drama, having not watched him in The Return of the Condor Heroes (the one with Liu Yi Fei, but you can also check out the newest version with Chen Xiao reprising Huang Xiao Ming’s role). And yes, I have this teeny crush on him now because he nails his character. It helps that he looks really good shirtless too. Since it’s the first time I’ve seen him act, I can’t compare him to his previous acts but he has the correct vibes for his character here. Chen Qiao En, I’ve seen plenty of. There was a period where everyone in my school would talk about The Prince who Turned into a Frog and after since, I’ve seen her in a few Taiwanese dramas. Having said that, Qiao En is in her familiar turf, acting as the innocent talkative girl who happens to be entangled in a hot mess which is Zuo Zhen. Of course she faces much more tribulation such as trying to not get killed by a secret organization which incidentally also killed her parents. And she embarks on a mission to Shanghai to achieve all above in addition of searching for her long lost elder sister, Yin Ming Zhu. Xiang Ying Dong is a complete opposite of his generous brother, Han Dong. Besides being a playboy, he can’t find it in himself to try and win back his first love with his own abilities. Nevertheless, he is not an evil character but perhaps a necessary one to emphasis on how Xiang Han Dong is the epitome of gentleman. Xiang Han Dong takes it upon himself to care for his younger and only brother. However, he fell in love with Ming Zhu although he knew that she was Ying Dong’s first love. So yes, despite being completely protective and caring of Ming Zhu, he was selfish in certain ways. He just wants his cake and eat it too. Lv Jia Rong’s Yin Ming Zhu is another interesting character with the weight of two men (or two brothers) on her shoulder. Similar to Jin Xiu, she faced many tribulations when she first arrived in Shanghai and perhaps even worse trials. With her pride and will, she climbed to the top of the entertainment ladder and scored herself the lottery in bachelor Xiang Han Chuan, a man of great power and wealth in Shanghai. Her fiancee also happens to be the elder brother of her first love which means yes, she is so committing bigamy. I jest. On a more serious review tone, her character is well played. We see her as the egoistical woman enjoying her view on top of a pedestal. However, the drama tunes into her deepest, darkest fears and jealousy as well. It is interesting to see her trying to deal with the consequences of rising high up in the dangerous Shanghai where she realizes she isn’t really the highest on the food chain. Another two characters worthy of mention would be Qi Ji‘s Maeda Ryuichi. Some may remember him from Cuo Dian Yuan Yang. He plays a Japanese spy and has a leash on Yin Ming Zhu. Quite an obsessive antagonist I would say but it did make me fear for poor Ming Zhu. My favourite soundtrack in this drama would be ‘Fate’ sung by Huang Xiao Ming himself.
The Lady and The Liar
From left: Sheng Jie Wen, Jiang Xin, Bai Zheng Qing and Du Xiao Han
Another Republican drama here starring Liu Kai Wei as Bai Zheng Qing and Tang Yan as Jiang Xin. This one is adapted from a Japanese manga which actually had its setting in France but the drama changed it to suit China. Plot remains the same though.
Jiang Xin was separated from her real, wealthy family when she was young and lives with her foster father in the poorest district. With the aid of her locket, she finds out that she is an heiress. A train mishap causes her identity to be stolen by a lady thief played by Yang Rong. Jiang Xin however loses her memory and is saved by Bai Zheng Qing. Meanwhile, her blind first love (Sheng Jie Wen) regains his sight and tries to seek Jiang Xin. As drama fates will have it, Sheng Jie Wen and Bai Zheng Qing are half-brothers (not Korean drama styles with them birth secrets, they do know it themselves). Du Xiao Han tries to keep herself from being found out as an impostor and this leads to a series of unfortunate events.
For those catching up on Chinese dramas, you will know that this drama is one of Tang Yan’s three consecutive top rating dramas (including Silent Separation and Legend of Fragrance). I watched Silent Separation which had Wallace Chung (my bias) in it and was quite excited to watch another Tang Yan drama. She stars with Liu Kai Wei, popular for his hurt, protective bad boy act (Sealed with a Kiss). Nowadays, I think he is more well-known as Yang Mi’s husband. I’ve watched a handful of Liu Kai Wei’s drama and I can say, his acting style does not change dramatically. It seems like either he is reprising a role or the characters were just written in a way for him. Not a breakthrough in acting for him I think. For Tang Yan, I have this nagging feeling that she is still stuck in the modern era so I can’t feel her character well. It doesn’t help that I’ve watched her in a modern drama (Silent Separation) few months prior. I guess TLaTL is kind of a modern drama as well, stuck between the extremes.
Yang Rong once again carries an antagonist character here and she does it well. As I grow older, my appreciation goes to well-played antagonist because of their acting skills and their ability to make us fear although they are on screen. Tony Yang plays the second fiddle here but his character is nothing to write home about. It’s my first drama watching Tony Yang too, failing to watch The Pursuit of Happiness after the first episode.
Emotional track from the drama by Lee Jia Wei. Love the lyrics 😀
Time to Compare and Contrast!
What I love about Cruel Romance: The chemistry. The dialogues. The intense Huang Xiao Ming stare. I also think that I prefer the heroine in this story. I don’t really know why but perhaps she is a bit more upbeat. I also prefer Zuo Zhen as a male lead because he is gruff and he has his personality. He is quite selfish and obsessive at first but it seems like he doesn’t really understand what he does is not exactly what ‘all’ girls will want. Later, he changes his ways towards Jin Xiu, earning her love. I like to think of him as a little boy really; a well built, muscular one. I also love the side characters like Ming Zhu, Han Dong and Maeda Ryuichi. They up the stakes and they are not boring.
What I love about The Lady and The Liar: Quiet but protective Bai Zheng Qing. Although selfish, there won’t be a drama if he wasn’t; all is fair in love and war. Beautiful outfits; Tang Yan always wear pretty and so does Yang Rong. Jin Xiu loses out a little in wardrobe department but her sister does wear pretty. I think they did quite well on costumes and sets really. The plot is interesting to me as well. I also love Tang Yan’s sidekick in the drama, Chun Hua. She serves as good humor and she is pleasantly cute to the eyes.
What I find similar in both: Oh, this is VERY obvious but for your convenience, I’ll state it. The era, the male lead’s background (rich and involved in some darker dealings), the female lead’s background (pure, poor at least initially for TLaTL). Both male leads have two sidekicks as well. Towards the last arc of both story, they have similar plotlines. There are more that I wish to reveal but too much would be spoilers.
The era: I have to admit, Republican era is not my interest. I have nil interest to find out about Japanese invasion and how China revolts in vain in a drama. It’s too complicated for me to digest and I suck in war history. However, as I mature, I find myself become more accepting of this genre and period. In fact the drama that opened my eyes to this era would be Wallace Chung’s ‘Too Late to Say I Love You‘. Although they appear to be more cheesy than your standard modern drama but it’s easy to find oneself addicted and drown in the glory of the yesteryear. If you want to start with Republican dramas but find it hard to begin, these two I’m reviewing would be a great choice. ‘Too Late to Say I Love You‘ would be great as well but even cheesier and mature than the aforementioned. If you want a more authentic taste of Republican era, Battle of Changsha will be a great option as well.
What do I recommend: If you do have time, it would be great to watch both. However, if I had to make an option, I would watch Cruel Romance. Why? I find watching Cruel Romance a fresher option because I haven’t seen the main leads many times. I’ve seen Liu Kai Wei one too many times and honestly feel not much attraction to Tang Yan’s acting. I haven’t watch Chen Qiao En in anything for a long time so I was curious about she would fare. Huang Xiao Ming is a big draw although he initially wasn’t the reason why I wanted to watch the drama. These are why I want to watch Cruel Romance over TLaTL but I’m sure there will be people who think otherwise for better reasons 🙂